In North American hockey, the phrase ‘Hockeytown’ is a label used for cities that have a history and distinct passion for the winter sport. In the United States, Detroit and their world-famous Red Wings even copyrighted the term in 1996. For Canadian-born Jeff Tomlinson, new head coach of the Berliner Eisbären, despite being in a country and continent dominated by soccer, the German capital has all the qualities needed for this special distinction.
“In Berlin, it is kind of like an island of its own with those 14,000 fans every game. In Köln and a couple of other places in the league, they draw well, but Berlin is the ‘Hockeytown’ for me,” said the 43-year-old coach on his first meeting with the media since being announced as the new trainer of the Eisbären in July.
Tomlinson has much experience with the home of his new team, having played for the Eisbären from 2000 to 2004 and coached inside the franchise from 2007 to 2010. His previous experiences living in Berlin have allowed him to see an underlying passion amongst the city’s population that many hockey fans around the world might not expect: “I really felt [the passion] when I was playing here and I lived in Hohenschönhausen. I would be shopping in the grocery store and people would come up to me asking things like ‘Why did you guys lose’ and were really hurt by it. It really wrecked their day as much as it wrecked my day … You could just feel the passion and that people lived for this sport. A lot of these people are giving their disposable income for hockey – to come and watch our games or to buy a jersey for their favorite player.”
When asked what he had missed most about Berlin during his time away from the Eisbären, after immediately acknowledging his excitement to eat at the city’s restaurants again, Tomlinson reiterated how special the Berlin hockey fans truly are: “This arena here – the fans and the passion in this ice arena … There are a lot of great spots in Germany, but passion is a little more accented here in Berlin.”
Tomlinson has big shoes to fill, as the team won the German Championship in five of the last six seasons under former head coach Don Jackson. Despite the pressure, Tomlinson seems ready for the test of the coming season: “I am really looking forward to my new challenge. The Eisbären are an elite European club with a great working environment. It will be a lot of fun working under these conditions.”
With the highest average attendance in the German Ice Hockey League (third highest in Europe as of 2012), with approximately 14,000 fans heading to O2 World for every Eisbären game, along with the recent success of the club, Tomlinson will certainly feel the passion of this so-called ‘Hockeytown’ in his first season as head coach.